Patch 7.2 is upon us

Well, the big news from yesterday’s Q&A is that Patch 7.2 will go live at the next reset. I suppose this is good news — the current content is getting a bit worn, although honestly I would be able to find too much to do in it for weeks or even months yet. Still, it is always fun to get new shinies.

No question in my mind, flying will be my main and most frenetic focus for the first couple of weeks until I get she achievement. I am heartily sick of bumbling around on the ground and being forced to take commercial air to get to far away places. Flight paths are still too roundabout for my tastes, and if I am going to take scenic tourist flights, then I want to be able to swoop down or stop at interesting points I see from the air.

Not going to lie, I am also waiting for flying to get some profession quest lines finished on alts. Some of them are too lightly geared to deal efficiently with mobs encountered getting to or getting out of quest areas. If the quest is to kill 12 bears, for example, I do not want to have also fight my through an area packed with spiders or rabid plant life, both entering and exiting the quest area. And I am also waiting on flying to level a couple of my more problematic alts (looking at you, Mage).

I have Pathfinder Part 1 finished, so it will just be a matter of grinding out the new rep and other requirements for Part 2. I am not really that happy with Blizz introducing an entire new faction for us to get rep with for this achievement, however. It just strikes me as Blizz once again — in what has become a depressing pattern — screwing with us, moving the goal posts just as we get close enough to think we are finished. To add insult to injury, no existing rep tokens count for the new rep.

Similarly, Patch 7.2 will permit (ok, “force”) us to increase the gear level of our class hall champions if we wish to use them for new missions. But all those gear upgrade tokens you have been collecting ever since your champions all reached level 850? Yup, you guessed it, worthless. There will be new ones we can grind for endlessly.

The other goal post that has been moved is of course the artifact trait one. I would not ever characterize myself as a completionist when it comes to achievements in this game, but there is just something mean about letting me get a whiff of success at maxing out my artifact traits — I am at 52 right now — then move that goal nearly out of range (there will be something like 50 more traits or trait levels in 7.2, and each will cost millions or even tens of millions of AP to get).

It just feels like Blizz ran out of good ideas and decided that redoing artifact traits, class hall quest lines, champion missions, faction rep, and class hall research was the way to go. Yeah, take what are arguably the most annoying parts of Legion and make everyone do a do-over on them and pass it off as new content….

I have not played the PTR lately, so I only have what I read to go by for some of the upcoming changes. In general, I kind of liked the world scenarios we got at the end of WoD as prep for Legion. They were fun to me because they really were completely optional. I am not so sure how much I will like them now that they will be a requirement for another achievement.

I don’t really understand the mechanics of establishing a new class hall base on a new island — this is beginning to smell like more garrisons to me. And I surely do not get the building mechanic. Apparently, each region and/or server group somehow “votes” for the kind of building (one of three possibles) they want. From what I can glean, you “vote” by collecting and giving up nethershards (something new to grind for, but remember Blizz hates collecting currency except when they don’t). At some point there are enough votes for the building to be constructed, it gives a local buff, lasts for 72 hours, gets destroyed by the Legion, then everyone gets to start all over again.

Forgive me if I am not jumping up and down in anticipation of what appears will be yet another depressing Sisyphean activity.

There will be some number of user interface upgrades in the new patch. Again, this is always nice, but the ones I saw were ones I have long ago fixed by using an addon. Blizz’s UI is generally poor, and they remain extremely lazy about fixing it because they know addons will fill in the holes until they get around to making a stab at it.Reading about the upcoming changes, it seems like my addons will still be leagues better than Blizz’s “fixes”.

I have not seen any updated official 7.2 patch notes yet, which makes me wonder if once again — like for 7.1.5 — they will only be published a few hours before the patch goes live, and even then they will be incomplete and straight out wrong in some instances. I would think if a new patch is deemed ready for prime time, that part of that includes having well-written and complete patch notes, but I guess this is not a priority for Blizz.

Still, for all my crabbiness about 7.2, I have to give Blizz credit for thus far sticking to their promise of continually pumping out new Legion content. I honestly did not think they would be able to do it, and I am happy to be proven wrong so far. In my opinion, “content” is at once the best and worst feature of Legion. The best because, well, there is undeniably a lot of it and it keeps changing and morphing at a pretty furious pace. The worst because too much of it is required rather than just optional — I say required because it is part and parcel of nearly every conceivable game goal for almost any player.

(For example, running dungeons is required in order to complete zones, develop professions, do class hall quest lines, etc. There is no  path to accomplishing these activities without running dungeons. Just my opinion, I know, but to me this is cramming certain content down people’s throats, forcing certain very narrow play styles on every character.)

There is a ton of stuff in Patch 7.2, and I have not even touched the surface. It will be here in a few days, and at that time we will all be able to judge for ourselves what works and what doesn’t in it.

Apologies for the rather disorganized comments today, I am on the phone fighting with customer service over what should be a simple door opening mod to my new dryer, and I am at wit’s end over trying to explain the problem to what seems to be someone with the technical grasp of a carrot on the other end of the line. I thonk I see alcohol in my near future.

Maybe Legion really is the expansion we hoped it would be

Blizzcon 2016 is now in the archives, and I am cautiously hopeful that Legion may indeed fulfill its promise as the anti-Draenor. I did not watch any of the panels live, but I did watch them in the videos afterwards, and I was struck by the amount of information we got from Ion Hazzikostas and the devs — concrete plans for Legion as it moves forward as well as Blizzard’s philosophical approaches to this game and its design. There was a lot to digest, but let me address what I thought were a few of the highlights from what I considered to be the major presentation.

But first, a little groveling on my part. I am often very hard on Ion Hazzikostas, but I thought he hit it out of the park with his presentation on “Legion – What’s Next?” I got a sense that he is finally coming into his own, possibly as a result of being promoted to Game Director, that he is at last comfortable with the game’s direction as well as with communicating that direction to the player base. His presentation was smooth, informed, relaxed, and lively. He seemed to finally shed the tendency to lapse into lawyer-speak, and there was absolutely none of the patronizing comments or snarkiness he has been prone to in the past. I would go so far as to say his presentation was the best we have heard from Blizz in many years. He will never, I think, be very good with interactive player communication — he does not strike me as being an extemporaneous type of guy — but if he continues to give us the quality of information we saw over the weekend, that does not matter. He is in a management position where he can “have people for that”.

I am beginning to believe that Blizz is ever so slowly working itself out of the trust deficit they dug for themselves in WoD. Of course, we still must see if they come through on the promise of Legion, but at least so far they have done what they said they are going to do.

So here are a few items I was most interested in from the “What’s Next” panel. (You can watch one of the many videos of it or check out one of the summaries like Wowhead’s.)

  • Major and minor patches. We know these happen, but it was enlightening to have them defined for us. And it was very pleasant to hear that they are being more or less pipelined in the PTR — once one goes live, the next one is queued up and ready to go for testing. Additionally, it was interesting to hear that content patches are not necessarily tied to raid tiers.
  • Micro holidays coming in Patch 7.1.5. While I am not a big fan of the current world holidays, I do think the Azeroth-based micro holidays have the potential to be a lot of fun. (I am imagining things like Leeeroy Jenkins Day, although it was not mentioned as one of the examples.) The fact that there will be no achievements, mounts, etc. for these events is good, I think, because it reinforces the idea that they are just for a bit of fun. I like the idea because it seems like Blizz is returning to one of their strengths — creative whimsy.
  • Class changes. This was probably the most exciting announcement in my opinion. It seems there will be a ton of substantive class changes coming in 7.1.5, but more than the actual changes, it was the way Hazzikostas described them that caught my attention, particularly as they relate to hunters.
    • He addressed the problem of class play style and feel, and he admitted that they had gone a bit too far in creating spec identity, sometimes at the expense of overall class identity. This has been the main concern of nearly every hunter comment since Alpha, and it gives me hope for qualitative improvement to the brain-dead BM rotation.
    • Traps! Yes, he actually said it, all hunters will get traps back in some form. This was part of a broader discussion of utility, and it seems that Blizz will be adding back some of the utility they had cut from certain classes. This is good news for many, but I think it is especially good for hunters, the class that has historically been “the” utility class in the game. I have heard some argue that utility was in fact the major defining feature of hunters, and that the Legion removal of nearly all utility abilities from hunters effectively destroyed the nature of the class. I am not sure I would go that far, but there is a certain amount of merit to the argument. I hope traps are not the only utility being restored to hunters.
  • Class order hall renewed emphasis in 7.2. Basically, there will be an extension to the order hall campaigns, and a renewed commitment to the idea of classes banding together to save Azeroth. I have not been a fan of this whole concept since it was first announced, and honestly I feel like it is an artificial convenience — to cover Blizz’s decision to continue garrisons in Legion — rather than a smoothly-fitting part of the story. Still, if it is a vehicle for providing continuing content, it is hard to argue with it.
  • Flying. Contrary to my predictions (eating a small portion of crow here), it will arrive in Patch 7.2. However, since I had not considered the possibility of a semi-major 7.1.5 patch, I think my initial prediction of 7.3 (third major patch) was not far off. But I am still not convinced that most people will be able to have flying before well into 2017, given both patch scheduling and the rather significant achievement additions to Pathfinder that will be required. Still, I think it is likely to be closer to early summer than my initial prediction of the end of the year. Which brings up ….
  • Class mounts. I am not much of a mount person, tend to look at them as basic transportation, but I have to admit I was pretty excited about the announcement of class mounts as the reward for completing requirements for flying. I am not exactly sure what that half-wolf, half-eagle thing is that hunters will get, but I want it!
  • Artifact weapons. I am already pretty sick of this mechanism and the way it influences nearly every aspect of the game for me, so the announcement that there will be extensions to them in 7.2 in the form of additional traits and a level 4 for existing 3-level traits was not welcome news to me. The only saving grace, in my opinion, was the comment that they would definitely not/not be continued in the next expansion. Thank goodness. Let’s just hope there will not be artifact bloomers or something ….
  • World invasions. These daily events, similar to the ones we had in the pre-patch events in WoD, will be returning in 7.2. I think this is a good move as a way to add content. The invasion scenarios were fast, fun, and they gave decent rewards. Also, I think they were very well received by most players. Good move on Blizz’s part.
  • No mention of Patch 7.3, and maybe extra-planetary travel?? Hazzikostas did not venture much beyond plans for Patch 7.2 — he did not specifically mention patch 7.3. The timeline, though, argues for such a patch.
    • Assuming 7.2 goes live sometime around March or April of 2017 (wild ass guess on my part), that would mean Legion is less than a year old by the time 7.2 goes live.
    • If Blizz’s previous declaration that they were going back to 18-month or 2-year expansions holds, that leaves a lot of time for more major Legion patches. And it seems unlikely, given the bad recent experiences with patches lasting for a year, that we will not have one or more after 7.2. Even if there is a Patch 7.2.5, there will still be a lot of time left in Legion, certainly enough for a Patch 7.3 and 7.3.5 before the next pre-expansion patch.
    • The hint Hazzikostas tantalizingly dropped was that the battle will be taken directly to The Legion’s home planet of Argus. This does not necessarily mean space travel with star ships and all — magic portals seem more likely — but still…. Remember the world invasions we got before Legion as part of the pre-expansion events? Those big things in the sky where there was a swirly spiral certainly looked like they might be space ships, didn’t they?
    • If in fact Argus is the new zone we get in Patch 7.3, it opens up an entirely new planet for future expansions. No more trying to cram new zones into what is becoming a rather crowded Azeroth map. Honestly, it is quite exciting, and it goes a long ways towards laying to rest the perpetual WoW-is-dead theories.

Many people — me included — expected Blizzcon 2016 to be a real yawner, but surprisingly I found it to be one of the more optimistic and exciting ones in recent history. It seems like Blizz has finally turned the corner from the long, dark days of WoD, and I am excited by the notion that Legion may actually be the expansion we all hoped it would be. For the first time in many, many months, I am enthusiastic about the future of the game.

Recognizing complexity

We are getting lots of snow here today in the “sunny South”, so I took a couple hours to catch up on my WoW blog reading. One in particular started me thinking about Blizz’s decisions and actions ever since the announcement of Warlords of Draenor, how they seem perplexing for such a large and successful company. Then it dawned on me:

They are in over their heads and are floundering just to keep afloat. 

I don’t mean financially, I mean technically, at the meta system management level.

*Courtesy xkcd

*Courtesy xkcd

(By the way, the blog that got me into this train of thought was over at ALT:ernative Chat, an interesting piece that theorizes Blizz is becoming more and more consumed with just fixing bugs, at the expense of developing new content.  It’s short, so take a couple minutes and check it out.)

If you take even a few seconds to think about WoW and all the pieces that make it what it is — an incredible gaming experience even with all its flaws — you’ll realize that “incredibly complex” is an extreme understatement. I would argue, in fact, that it qualifies as a Complex Adaptive System, governed by complexity theory.

Apologies for citing Wikipedia, I know it is not a scholarly source, but trust me you do not want to read the actual scholarly sources on this subject, it is not for the mathematically challenged. Here is a list of the characteristics of Complex Adaptive Systems (from the same Wikipedia article, which has citations you can look up if you want to):

Some of the most important characteristics of complex systems are:

The number of elements is sufficiently large that conventional descriptions (e.g. a system of differential equations) are not only impractical, but cease to assist in understanding the system. Moreover, the elements interact dynamically, and the interactions can be physical or involve the exchange of information.

Such interactions are rich, i.e. any element or sub-system in the system is affected by and affects several other elements or sub-systems.

The interactions are non-linear: small changes in inputs, physical interactions or stimuli can cause large effects or very significant changes in outputs.

Interactions are primarily but not exclusively with immediate neighbours and the nature of the influence is modulated.

Any interaction can feed back onto itself directly or after a number of intervening stages. Such feedback can vary in quality. This is known as recurrency.

Such systems may be open and it may be difficult or impossible to define system boundaries.

Complex systems operate under far from equilibrium conditions. There has to be a constant flow of energy to maintain the organization of the system.

Complex systems have a history. They evolve and their past is co-responsible for their present behaviour.

Elements in the system may be ignorant of the behaviour of the system as a whole, responding only to the information or physical stimuli available to them locally.

Sound familiar? Some of the major implications of these system characteristics are:

  • Such systems cannot be modeled with any degree of certainty. (Maybe beta and PTR tests become less and less valuable, because they are just models of the final system?)
  • The possibilities for breaking something while fixing something else grow ever larger. And the fixed and broken things are not necessarily directly connected to each other, making them ever more difficult to predict and even track down. Introducing new elements only increases the number of problems, usually unpredictably.
  • Since the system rarely operates in equilibrium, just maintaining the system organization consumes ever-increasing resources. Pendulum swings are common.

So here’s the point (yeah, I know, you were hoping I would get to it sooner or later): Blizzard has failed to recognize the kind of system their game has become, and they are still trying to manage it as they did back before it morphed.

As I have said before, Blizz management operates like a couple of guys in a garage. Yes, it’s now lots more than “a couple”, and the “garage” is huge and fancy, but the philosophy is still the same. And now that perceptual mistake has caught up with them. They are running faster and faster but still falling behind, and every new game structure they introduce causes an explosion of system bugs.

They simply do not grasp the fact that their structure must change. In the past, when they had bugs, the solution was to list them and fix them. But now fixing them inevitably creates more bugs because of the system complexity, and making bigger lists and hiring more fixers is not a solution. In the past, a few smart devs could manage the direction of the game and had a good grasp of how Change X would affect various facets. But now such management requires experts in complex systems — who probably are not experts in the game itself — who know how to organize meta systems by coordinating the efforts of subject matter experts. They need experts in complex subsystems, such as actual economists to manage the game economy, professional pollsters to truly determine what their customers want, social media experts for things like Twitter integration and managing chat subsystems.

But I see no indication that Blizz recognizes any of this, much less that they are adapting to the new reality.  Unless they do something drastically different, any new content they introduce is doomed to failure, and the current content will continue to deteriorate.